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October 18. 2013 12:27AM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Double dose of difficult

DURHAM

TEST TIME.

The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey and football teams have major challenges ahead this weekend. The good news is they are at-home tests.

Michigan, which jumped to the No. 5 ranking in the country after wins over Boston College and RIT last weekend, plays No. 13 UNH at the Whittemore Center today at 7:30 p.m. and again on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Villanova, ranked No. 12 with a 4-2 overall record and 3-0 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association, will be at Cowell Stadium on Saturday at noon to take on the No. 25 Wildcats. UNH is 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the league and needs to run off some wins to keep its playoff hopes alive.

The football team’s most recent big-time test did not go so well.

The Wildcats went to Towson two weeks ago and started fast, but could not hold on and lost 44-28.

“That was a real reality check,” said junior running back Nico Steriti. “It was the No. 2, No. 3 team in the country and we’re going out there and we’re putting up points, we’re playing football. We’re getting stops, we’re getting turnovers. When you see that as a player you see how good your team can be. But when you let things up, it’s kind of a trickle effect. You keep giving up stupid things and before you know it, you’re losing.”

Villanova followed UNH into Towson and, led by an off-the-charts game from sophomore quarterback John Robertson, started fast and kept getting turnovers and never let up and came away with a 45-35 win last Saturday.

Now UNH will take another test.

“At times you felt in the (Towson) game you were as good as anybody in the CAA,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. “Then there’s the other times when you’re saying we’ve got a long way to go.”

The challenge grows this week with the Wildcats missing a few starters.Andy Vailas, the junior quarterback from Bedford, had arthroscopic surgery on his knee on Tuesday and is out.

Junior wide receiver R.J. Harris and redshirt freshman defensive back Casey DeAndrade are both doubtful.

Sophomore Sean Goldrich, who started and played well in a 59-19 win over Rhode Island last week, will get the nod again at quarterback.

While Vailas started the first four games this year, McDonnell has always figured he has two starting quarterbacks and expects Goldrich to continue to play well.

“He’s a good football player,” McDonnell said. “We’re lucky to have this situation.”

Robertson completed 17 of his 18 passes last week against Towson for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 32 times for 150 yards and three scores.

“He can beat you in a lot of different ways,” McDonnell said.

Goldrich and UNH will try to retain the balance that has the Wildcats splitting their 481.2 yards of offense a game evenly with 243.4 rushing and 237.8 passing.

Steriti is averaging 91.4 yards a game and 6.5 yards a carry and has scored six of the team’s 14 rushing touchdowns.

- - - - - - -

THE HOCKEY TEAM saw a lot of speed last Saturday night against Minnesota in the championship game of the Ice Breaker Tournament at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

The Wildcats played well, said coach Dick Umile, but after beating Clarkson 4-1 in the first round, lost to the Golden Gophers, 3-2, in the title game.

They expect to see at least as much speed this weekend.

“We learned we can compete,” Umile said. “We believe we’re going to be a good team. We may not be there yet. It’s not like we have a whole lot of time. I think Michigan on tape looks even better than Minnesota. They’re pretty good. They’re not only fast. They’re big, they’re strong.”

The Wildcats did not have top-line senior forward Kevin Goumas for the Minnesota game. He took a hit in the first period of the Clarkson game and did not play the rest of the weekend. Linemate Grayson Downing, a junior, got shaken up against Minnesota but continued to play.

There was some question whether they would be able to go this weekend.

Umile said on Thursday afternoon that both should be able to play.

Goumas and Downing teamed with freshman Tyler Kelleher on the top line to start the Clarkson game.

Senior Jeff Wyer made 33 saves to earn his first win as a starter against Clarkson. Casey DeSmith, the junior from Rochester, made 31 saves against Minnesota.

Umile was happy with the goaltending last week and said he will likely stick with the same rotation this weekend, starting Wyer tonight and DeSmith on Saturday.

alessels@unionleader.com On Twitter: @AllenLessels


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